Le dunk de la mort

If you even have so much as a casual interest in basketball, you will almost certainly have heard the name Vince Carter and to many, the “half man, half amazing” is primarily associated with two jaw-dropping moments. One of which is a fabled “Elbow dunk” at the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest which all but secured him in a lot of people’s eyes (including Kobe Bryant’s) as the greatest dunker of all time. The other, a moment during the Summer Olympic games of the same year where Carter jumped over the head of 7″2 Frédéric Weis to dunk the ball during a USA national team match against France, a moment which has since been labelled “Le dunk de la mort” translating as the dunk of death. The most important detail about that dunk was something I was not always aware of, what shoes he was wearing when he made that iconic dunk – Vince Carter jumped over a 7-foot tall man in a pair of Nike Shox, and that’s when I knew, I had to know more.

Nike Shox technology

When you think of Nike, you think of Air technology, and more specifically Air Max, but you’d be surprised to hear that the design process for Nike Shox started way back in 1984, a full three years before Nike debuted Air Max. Bruce Kilgore, the mastermind behind the Air Force 1 started the project design taking inspiration from an indoor running track at Harvard University. They observed that the surface built of polyurethane could offer enough cushion so that runners could experience energy return to help their stride and reduce energy while not having so much cushion that could sink into the surface and lose energy into the cushion. So when you think of energy return soles in today’s world, you think Adidas’ Boost technology, but Nike has been at this a while.

Nike Shox BB4

Nike realised that if they could implement the tech of the track directly into a shoe, the benefits would go directly to the runner and wouldn’t just be an equal playing field across everyone running on said track. After the concepts initial inception the Nike Shox went through a 6-year development phase in which the Swoosh trialled steel springs and a host of other stuff before eventually arriving at a winning combination four pillars with hollowed out polyurethane sitting on a TPU heel counter. So finally after a full 16 years of working on the concept, the Nike Shox was finally ready for its debut. Fast forward to the aforementioned “Le dunk de la mort”, and you couldn’t ask for a better advert for Nike’s new technology. The debut model in question, the Nike Shox BB4 (BB meaning basketball and the four standing for the four pillars) definitely caught everyone’s attention, but the first model to debut after the Olympics was, in fact, the Nike Shox R4 (R for running). The Nike Shox BB4 was designed by Eric Avar the mind behind the vast majority of Kobe Bryant’s signature shoes, and the R4 also went on to have many iterations like the Shox Glamour designed for Serena Williams in 2004, but ultimately the most iconic Nike Shox was the original BB4. As LeBron James put it in an interview “Vince (Carter) had kids believing that they could jump like him if they put on a pair of Nike Shox.” and that alone immortalised the pair in the childhoods of so many in the early 2000s just as Air Jordan would have captivated kids in the 90s.

Naturally, like most things, Nike Shox appeared to fall out of favour in the mid-2000s but has since made a sort of resurgence since 2018 as most things in the industry tend to do, and actually, it makes a lot of sense that they would be making a come back. The current footwear meta is dominated by chunky and non-conventional designs, from Balenciaga’s Triple S to Kanye West’s Yeezy Waverunner, gaudy silhouettes have thoroughly infiltrated high-fashion circles. Further down the food chain, sports brands have also got in on the act, with the likes of FILA and New Balance enjoying success with atypically bulbous silhouettes. Nike of course, not to be outdone, have decided to jump on the bandwagon by dusting off some of the more retro designs from the archives with chunky basketball styles like the Air Shake Ndestrukt and Air More Uptempo reappearing across retailers. So it would make sense that a shoe as brimming with novelty and nostalgia as the Nike Shox would quickly follow suit, once ousted in favour of lighter more streamline designs has now once again found a place within the Nike portfolio in which to exist, and I for one am glad to see them back amongst it.

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